Heroes & Generals, Beta Impressions

Just because it's free to play doesn't mean we shouldn't take a look...

Heroes & Generals is a free to play title combining a first person shooter with deep strategy elements. The game promises some interesting concepts and unique approaches to how it ties its two different gameplay modes together. However, though it is available to the public to play, it claims to still be in beta and definitely feels like it, as it needs some time to grow.

This is another in a massive glut of World War II shooters, so there’s nothing very exciting or surprising about the setting. The maps I saw were largely interchangeable: different European countrysides broken up by bodies of water with houses and other buildings scattered about here and there. However, Heroes & Generals does achieve a somewhat realistic vibe in the way its environments are laid out. They’re really very expansive and it feels accurate to the war the game is set in that, when you respawn, you have to trudge your way through a vast field or swim a while before reaching a point of combat. It can be slow-paced, but there’s a cool sensation to lurking through a map and trying to find a way to enter the fray to get the drop on your enemies.

That said, the graphics that compose these environments are nothing special. Everything is a bit too dark (I witnessed other players complaining about this too) and the textures are ultimately plain. Indoor areas don’t have many details; occasionally you’ll find something indicating a structure’s previous inhabitants, like an overturned bookcase with its contents strewn everywhere or some neglected factory machinery, but buildings are mostly kind of sparse. On the whole, however, it’s not as though the graphics are bad. They’re merely serviceable. The audio is mostly similar as, except for a decent track on the lobby screen, there’s no music and effects are standard FPS fare (guns firing, guys grunting) and unmemorable. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s an annoying buzzing sound that got stuck in my head that alerts you to the various developments in the battle as they pop up as text at the top of the screen. There’s always stuff happening so you hear this almost constantly and it gets obnoxious fast.

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Easily one of the most underdeveloped aspects of Heroes & Generals currently is how it orients the player in that it, well, doesn’t. There is a tutorial level, but, curiously, all it teaches you how to do is pick up and use different types of weapons which is the most conventional and least confusing part of the game. It doesn’t make any effort to explain anything else whatsoever and most everything else in Heroes & Generals from respawning to weapon customization to leading a squad comes off as abnormally complicated. There is a ton of documentation you can read through and YouTube videos to watch to help acquaint you with everything, but it’s up to you to investigate and spend time on these extracurriculars as you will be taught next to nothing within the game itself.

Regardless, for a new player jumping into Heroes & Generals, it’s still relatively playable as long as you’re familiar with first person shooters. When actually in battle, it’s all the basic stuff you’re used to: you can jump, crouch, aim, swim, switch between several weapons, and operate various vehicles. Some of your health regenerates after you’re hurt, but you must find medkits to restore it all the way. The goal in battles is also familiar. Whether on defense or offense, your objective is to find the room with a radio in it in each building marked on the map and occupy it until a little circle fills up showing that you’ve captured the location. Once one side has captured everyone location on a map, they win. You can only respawn in locations you’ve captured and there are limits as to when and where you can respawn beyond that. However, these never became completely clear to me. Sometimes I could spawn into an area where combat was raging; other times, not. Also, if you die near the end of a battle, you are not allowed to respawn… or at least I think that’s how it works. There may actually be some sort of limited number of lives system in place, but, again, the game doesn’t explain any of this. Something also unexplained is that a message would sometimes pop up informing me I was now the squad leader and I would then receive periodic messages that my soldiers were waiting for my orders. However, I had no idea what orders I should be giving or how to give them and, when other people were squad leaders, I received no orders from them either, giving me that sense that none of us understood how the mechanic worked.

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The strategic side of Heroes & Generals appears to be extensive but difficult to actually get into. Aside from a basic absence of guidance from the game, quite a lot of play hours (or real world money) need to be spent before you can do anything besides be a grunt on the frontlines. The game IS called Heroes & Generals for a reason. Supposedly many of the battles you’re fighting have been setup by generals who have full assault teams and some degree of control over the heroes’ existences. But, as a new player, you’ll need a hell of a lot of credits (over 50,000) before you’ll be able to enlist new soldiers in addition to the one you start out with. Simply fighting a few battles will net you a decent amount of credits, but you’ll probably want to spend some of your initial earnings toward upgrading the one soldier you do have as he doesn’t even come equipped with a melee weapon.

One fun thing is earning combat ribbons. These are achievements you get for doing certain things like using one gun a lot, or swimming a long distance, or performing specific actions like jumping directly into a battle. They’re nice because you earn them based on your in-game actions, not solely by sinking time or cash into the title. Combinations of combat ribbons unlock combat badges which add benefits such as increased damage from explosives or the ability to scavenge ammo from fallen soldiers. Quite obnoxious, however, is that you only have one combat badge slot with a second one only unlockable if you throw some real money at it.

As a low-level hero, some sense of the game’s overall scope is there. The idea is that you join wars (either as Germany or the US) and fight battles within those wars and it is indeed a cool idea that each individual battle contributes to a grander, overarching war. But, for a new player, you may just feel kind of stuck in the trenches, putting in hours to earn your next secondary weapon with the goal of becoming a general (or pilot, or paratrooper) way out of reach. More irksome is the knowledge that others may have just spent real world money in order to speed the process up. Something also pretty lame is that, though you’re given the choice to change what side you’re fighting for with each war, you’re better off picking one and sticking with it as whatever weapons and combat ribbons you’ve purchased as an American don’t carry over if you decide to next be a German and vice versa.

All in all, this feels like a game with a lot to it but with very little of it accessible. Even so, I must note that, confused though I often was, I had fun simply hopping into battles and screwing around. One big reason for is this is bicycles. Yes, bicycles. In almost every village, there will generally be at least one bicycle parked somewhere and, should someone else take it, no big deal as it respawns very quickly. You can’t attack while on a bike, but you CAN ring the bell and I had a blast riding into battles, circling around people, and ringing my bell repeatedly like a jackass. You can also ride on the back of a bicycle as someone else drives it, something equally hilarious-looking. Seriously, I can’t say I know of any of FPSes with bicycles in them and just the inclusion of them bumps the gameplay up a point or two.

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Heroes & Generals feels like it has a grand scope but it’s difficult to get a handle on. There are the prospects of becoming a fighter pilot, a paratrooper, or a general who gets to oversee battles. However, it takes a lot of playtime and/or money to get anywhere beyond being anything more than a confused soldier messing about in the tall grass in the dark. If being a hardcore World War II strategist sounds like it’s up your alley, Heroes & Generals may eventually be perfect for you. For now, however, I’d suggest just getting on a bike and riding around like an idiot.

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